Ian ChappellCricket commentator for Channel Nine, and a columnistClose
- Widely regarded as the best Australian captain of the last 50 years, Ian
Chappell moulded a team in his image: tough, positive, and fearless. Even
though Chappell sometimes risked defeat playing for a win, Australia did not lose a Test series under him between 1971 and 1975. He was an aggressive batsman himself, always ready to hook a bouncer and unafraid to use his feet against the spinners. In 1977 he played a lead role in the defection of a number of Australian players to Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, which did not endear him to the administrators, who he regarded with contempt in any case. After retirement, he made an easy switch to television, where he has come to be known as a trenchant and fiercely independent voice.
“Bat time” and “a good leave” are my two least favourite utterances from the cricket commentary box, but I doubt I could convince the redoubtable Cheteshwar Pujara.
In scoring three centuries in a series in Australia, he joined an illustrious compatriot, the equally defiant Sunil Gavaskar, who achieved a similar feat in 1977-78. In accumulating 521 runs in seven innings, Pujara was at the crease for a mammoth 1867 minutes and was not tempted by a high percentage of the 1258 balls he faced.
While the Australian cricket team was keeping a wary eye on Virat Kohli, Pujara snuck up from behind and executed the perfect mugging. In addition to helping India win a series for the first time in Australia, he frustrated a top-class opposition attack to the point of submission. The fast bowlers were worn to a frazzle by the end of the Indian first innings at the SCG, and India’s lower order, who for much of the series were the ducks in the shooting gallery, scored frequently and freely.
Not only did Pujara single-handedly bring the Australian bowlers to their knees, he also paved the way for his team-mates to deliver the killer blows. Rishabh Pant displayed enormous talent with the bat early in the series but little discipline. However, there were signs at the MCG that his approach was changing, and by the time Kohli declared at the SCG, the ebullient wicketkeeper had completed his makeover.
Pujara might not be the prettiest player to watch – unless you’re an India fan – but he’s the most effective blunter of an attack in a cricket world where currently bludgeoning is the favoured submission hold.
It’s no surprise to hear that he has been known to bat in the nets for six hours to train his mind to spend lengthy spells at the crease. If he didn’t invent the term “bat time”, Pujara is certainly a disciple of the method.
He possesses two great qualities for a batsman: he knows what he can and can’t do, and he has the infinite patience to stick within those parameters. After he had batted in the series for more than the length of a full Test match, the Australians still had no idea how to rid themselves of the Pujara pestilence. In fact, by the end of his lengthy vigil at the SCG, they probably had fewer ideas on how to conduct an ambush than when the series started out at Adelaide Oval.
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Kohli might have wished for him to score quicker when he was dropped at the start of the series against England, but by the time Pujara wearily trudged off the SCG, I’ll bet the skipper wanted to give him a bear hug. In the other dressing room they’ll be wishing they never see Pujara again.
Other batsmen have scored more centuries and accumulated substantially more runs in a series but it’s doubtful any player has had a greater influence over the result. If they had a hall of fame for batting obduracy, Pujara would be voted in unanimously.
Though they booed Kohli on his entrance on day one, the SCG crowd has a deserved reputation for treating overseas players fairly. The prolonged standing ovation Pujara received even though he had just put the nail in the coffin of an Australian side that was trying to rid itself of the ugly stain of Cape Town was testament to the esteem with which the Indian batsman is held.
Kohli may be the king of Indian cricket but Pujara has proven to be his loyal ally and worthy of many privileges in the kingdom. Many good things have happened for India in this series, not the least of them being victory, and most have emanated from the stubborn defiance of Pujara.